Icebergs Become Iconic Architecture In Denmark

File under “Understatements:” a visually striking housing complex opened this spring in Aarhus, Denmark’s largest mainland city. It’s called Isbjerget, or Iceberg, for obvious reasons, but the architects insist that they did not have a berg flotilla in mind when they first sketched this jagged skyline. They were simply trying to optimize waterfront views and daylight for all of the units, even the lower ones on the back side of the square.

A related factor was that the city wanted no more than 7 or 8 stories; the architects bargained to be able to average between 7 and 8, with long steep roofs going from 3 stories up to 12.

isbjerget night

Isbjerget as seen from the harbor. Via JDSA.

I suspect that they began seeing icebergs fairly soon, as they skinned the buildings in gleaming white terrazo and then spangled them with triangular glass in shades of blue to clear. If climate change means that Norwegian cruise ships will have less and less actual ice to visit, at least they can stop by Aarhus.

From a plane, you can see that the plan is a nested set of L shapes, but from the sea it somehow comes across with all the randomness of real-life icebergs.

isbjerget plan

Plan and elevation sketches. Via JDSA.

The complex sits right out in Aarhus harbor, as part of an urban revitalization project on the site of a displaced container ship port. Construction was supposed to begin in 2008; after the recession forced the first developer out, the project stalled while the city scraped new financing together. It was worth the wait.

isbjerget close

Pedestrian view, showing deepest blue glass at lowest levels. Via JDSA.

A consortium of two Danish, one Dutch, and one French architecture firm all seem to share the considerable glory: just this year, an international jury gave it an Architizer A+ award, and then MIPIM named it a Best Residential Development.

Isbj schematic

Calculating the sight lines. Via JDSA.

The 208 housing units range from affordable rentals to penthouse and two-story condos—600 to 2450 square feet—with the intention of nurturing a true mixed community. The development as a whole is supposed to ensconce 12,000 jobs as well.

Publicity about Isbjerget emphasizes “social sustainability,” but lacks any specifics on energy efficiency. We do know that Denmark gets more of its power from wind than any other country—its oldest offshore farm is just a few kilometers from Aarhus—and its building codes are aggressive on the efficiency front.

Daniel Mathews writes about plants, animals, geology, and culture—most often writing in book form. (Bible form, if you listen to his fans. And now also in iPhone app form.) But he got his start in green homebuilding. Fresh out of Reed College, he went into the Oregon woods and built himself a tiny house out of timbers he cut and a cedar shakes he bucked and split all within 100 feet of the site. Fortunately he keeps up with the times, and focuses today on high-tech paths to a small carbon footprint. He lives in Portland with his wife, son, daughter, cat, dog, vegetable garden, and lots of music.